Words by Owen Martin & Sebastian Cichowlas
Photography by Chivas
At the end of this month The Netherlands Chivas Masters Winner 2019, Sebastian Cichowlas, will travel to Speyside, Scotland, to take part in the Global Finals of the Chivas Masters cocktail competition.
Since his victory in May, he has been prepping around the clock for the five-day finale, which will begin at the home of Chivas, Strathisla distillery, before heading to London, one of the world’s most dynamic cocktail cities.
Over the course of these five days, the global finalists will take part in a series of masterclasses and challenges where their skills, creativity and collaborative nature will be tested, to prove to the judges they have the right blend to take the Chivas Masters trophy home.
In addition to brushing up on his knowledge and creating cocktails with the whole Chivas range, he’s been travelling Europe hosting special guest shifts to spread the word about his signature Chivas cocktail, The Pirouette.
We caught up with him to hear all about it and see how he’s getting ready for the grand finals!
What’s your Chivas Masters journey been like so far?
It’s a journey that’s actually lasted almost 3 years for me … I took part every year but this year I worked harder than I ever have before and was finally able to take the title. I’m so happy to be representing The Netherlands at the Globals and so far it’s been a lot of fun … I mean, of course, it’s also been a lot of stress and hard work - because you have to be fully prepared - but it’s all worth it! All competing bartenders crave the adrenaline rush you get from being up on a stage with everyone watching every single move you make and listening to your story… for me, it’s a really breathtaking experience.
What are you most looking forward to & most nervous about at the global finals?
I’m looking forward to meeting all the other competitors, exchange experiences, learn about different cultures and, most importantly, have fun! Hopefully together we’ll survive the crazy challenges that the Chivas team have prepared for us. I just can’t wait to be there because lately I’ve not even been feeling so nervous because I really feel I’m ready… but that’s probably just the calm before the storm!
How have you been preparing for globals?
I’ve talked with a lot of the previous Chivas Masters winners to hear about their experiences so that I could prepare my own strategy. I’m also spending a lot of time rehearsing my presentation and going through a lot of books, researching all about the DNA of Chivas and, of course, refreshing my blended scotch whisky knowledge. I was lucky enough to go back to Poland (my homeland!) for two special Chivas Masters guest shifts in Warsaw & Krakow to promote my signature cocktail, The Pirouette, and I’m going to Edinburgh soon to do one there too! In Warsaw I even got to share the bar with the this year’s Polish winner, Sonia Garbowska, which was a real treat!
What is your blend? What makes you, you?
Well, definitely talking too much … but doing it with a big smile and always being honest. I’d include all the mistakes I’ve made in the past too because I’ve learnt from these and they’ve made me who I am today. Add a Barspoon of impatience on top and that’s me! The Pirouette sums all of this up perfectly!
What would you say was your defining -now I want to become a bartender- moment?
The very first time I ever served drinks to a group of people I saw these big smiles appear on their faces and I suddenly realized I was part of the reason why they were having a good time – and something just clicked. I knew that satisfying others brought me joy and, here I am, making people happy every day!
If you could meet any guru from our industry you have not yet met, who would it be?
Don Lee or Dave Arnold – ideally both of them at once!
What is your -hidden gem- cocktail, aka a classic no one remembers, but tastes really good?
Algonquin - rye, pineapple juice, dry vermouth – outstanding!
What is your favorite bar outside of The Netherlands?
Pistola y Corazon, Lisbon, because it had the most amazing vibe I’ve ever felt in a bar. I thought the bartenders, cocktails and food were all just perfect.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in our industry
Activated charcoal … let’s be honest at the end of the day it’s toxic and in my opinion if you really want to make your drink black there’s other, more safer, ways.
If you had to put all your money in one spirit category, which would it be and why?
Vintage potato Vodka - I love the heritage there and I love a good unfiltered vintage potato vodka (I’m from Poland after all). They aren’t very popular yet, but just give it some time…
Which celebrity would you love to teach bartending? What drink would you teach him/her?
Snoop Dogg - I would show him how to make proper gin and juice!
Sebastian’s guest shift at Nauticus Bar in Edinburgh is on Thursday 22 August at 8pm which will include a specially crafted cocktail menu using Chivas 12, Extra, Mizunara and Chivas 18.
The grand finale of the Chivas Masters will be hosted at London’s Oval Space on 29 August where cocktail enthusiasts will be able to witness the finalists showcase their creativity and winning blend and vote for their favourite collective bartender team.
Tickets for the event are available to buy here. All proceeds will be donated to Change Please, a London social enterprise helping the homeless and global winner of the Chivas Venture 2018.